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The Jewish Study Bible Contextualizes the Hebrew Bible with accompanying scholarly text on Jewish traditions and history.

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Commentary on Leviticus

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Text Commentary side-by-side

1.1–3.17 :

Gift offerings. Chs 1–3 are a single, uninterrupted divine speech. The theme is “gift offerings,” expressed in the word “ʾisheh,” “food gift,” used in each ch to characterize the offering prescribed (see 1.9 n. ). Gift offerings, as distinct from expiatory sacrifices (treated in chs 4–5 ), express the worshipper's desire to present something to the LORD as a token of love and reverence. The Rabbis referred to them as “nedavah,” “voluntary offerings,” since they could be made at will—in fulfillment of vows, at private visits to the sanctuary, in supplication in times of distress, in gratitude for deliverance from danger or harm, or simply in a spontaneous urge to pay homage to God. Each of the subsections corresponds to one of the three types of gift offering: the burnt offering (ch 1 ), the cereal offering (ch 2 ), and the sacrifice of well‐being (ch 3 ). While the burnt offering and cereal offering also figure prominently in the ordained public rituals performed by the priests on specified occasions, the sacrifice of well‐being belongs almost entirely to the realm of individual piety.

Chs 1.1–17 :

Burnt offerings from the herd and flock. As with the other offerings in chs 1–3 , only some of the procedures are detailed here. Some have already been given with the instructions for the consecration ceremonies (Exod. 29.15–18 ), and others are implicit in the instructions for other sacrifices. The text economizes, preferring not to repeat material found in other contexts. The defining feature of the burnt offering is that none of the meat is eaten; it is burned on the altar in its entirety. This makes it the gift‐offering par excellence. The text does not specify the circumstances that might occasion a burnt offering, but Noah's sacrifices of thanksgiving or propitiation after the flood (Gen. 8.20 ), Abraham's near‐sacrifice of Isaac (Gen. ch 22 ), Balaam's sacrifices entreating divine vision (Num. 23.15; etc.), Saul's sacrifices before battle (1 Sam. 13.12 ), and Job's sacrifices of atonement for his sons' hypothetical sins (Job 1.5 ), among many others, were burnt offerings. Since it also comprised the central component of the statutory public offerings, the altar in the Tabernacle court is called “the altar of the offering” (Exod. 30.28; etc.).

1 :

This is connected to the P narrative at the end of Exodus, so it should be translated “and it [the Presence of the LORD (Exod. 40.35 )] called out to Moses.” After it filled the Tabernacle, the Presence called to Moses from within. A distinction is made between the Presence, which called, and the LORD Himself, who spoke; this is similar to the first encounter with God experienced by the prophet Ezekiel (Ezek. 1.28–2.1 ff.). Tent of Meeting, one of the names for the Tabernacle; see the intro.

2 :

The heading for chs 1–3. According to the Masoretic accents, the v. should be translated as two separate provisions. The first, “When any of you presents an offering, [it must be] to the LORD,” is the basic postulate of all Israelite worship: Sacrifices are to be made to the LORD alone. The second goes on to stipulate: “He shall make his offering of livestock, that is, from the herd or from the flock.” This preserves the original intent of the second half of the v.: Offerings must be of livestock. Later, when the laws allowing burnt offerings from fowl (vv. 14–17 ) and cereal offerings ( 2.1–16 ) were added, the v. was understood to mean that when one wished to sacrifice livestock, the choice was limited to domestic animals. Any of you: Heb “ʾadam,” “human being,” refers to male and female alike (see Gen. 1.27; 5.2, also P). In P opportunities for individual worship are identical for male and female; only the public ritual was confined to males, namely, the Aaronic priesthood.

3–13 :

The burnt offering. See also 6.1–6; 7.8.

3–9 :

Making a burnt offering from the herd. Instructions follow for a third type of burnt offering, made from fowl (vv. 14–17 ). The fowl offering, which does not fit the explicit provision “you shall choose your offering from the herd or from the flock” (v. 2 ), was apparently not part of the original text. The offerer is responsible for acquiring the proper animal (see 22.17–20 ), bringing it to the Tabernacle entrance, placing his hand upon its head as an act of presentation, slaughtering it, removing the hide and flaying the animal. The priest performs the remaining actions: presenting the blood, dashing some of it around the altar in the Tabernacle courtyard, placing the quarters, head, and suet on the altar fire, washing the entrails and legs and placing them too on the altar, and seeing that all the flesh is “turned into smoke,” that is, consumed completely until nothing but ashes remain.

3 :

An offering, Heb “korban,” a term expressing the notion of something presented (from Heb “k‐r‐b,” “near”) in homage. It does not mean “sacrifice” in the sense of “giving something up.” Burnt offering, Heb “ʿolah,” from the verb “ʿ‐l‐h,” “go up, ascend”; the distinguishing visible feature of all altar sacrifices was the smoke ascending heavenward. For acceptance in his behalf: Central to all gift‐offerings is the worshipper's need to know that the deity has accepted his gift; this is consistenly referred to as “ratzon,” “acceptance” (see 22.17–20 ).

4 :

Lay his hand, to signify the transfer of ownership of the animal to the deity. Acceptable, correctly: “accepted”; see 7.18; 19.5–8; 22.17–30 . In expiation for him, Heb “kiper,” often translated “atone,” has two meanings in P: “decontaminate [the sacred precincts] of sin or defilement” (see 4.1–5.26 n. ) and “serve as ransom or payment [for one's life]” (see 17.11 n. ). The latter seems to be intended here; that is why it is mentioned along with the hand‐laying ritual: The moment ownership of the animal is transferred to the deity, it is accepted as payment, i.e., as a substitute for the worshipper himself. The lay person's private burnt offering would then be one way of symbolically offering oneself to God. The Rabbis ruled that the burnt offering be given in expiation for the failure to carry out performative commandments.

5 :

The bull shall be slaughtered, better, [the offerer] shall slaughter the bull. This is not strictly a part of the ritual in that no sacral significance was attached to the animal's death. Heb “sh‐ḥ‐t” implies that the slaughter is performed by slitting the throat, but since the Bible provides no details, rabbinic tradition held that the specifics were communicated orally by God to Moses. Offer the blood …against all sides of the altar: This is a symbolic method of offering the blood to the LORD.

6 :

Shall be flayed by the offerer. The division of labor is clear: The offerer is responsible for the mundane tasks of transferring ownership of the animal and transforming it from a living animal into food fit for consumption; the priests are responsible for the sacred tasks of dashing the blood and offering the flesh as a gift to the LORD.

7 :

Fire here, as in many passages, probably means burning coals. The priests were required to maintain a constant altar fire on the altar (see 6.6 ).

9 :

An offering by fire: Heb “ʾisheh” is not derived from “ʾesh,” “fire,” but from a root meaning “gift.” Thus a better translation is “food gift,” since the word denotes burnt offerings, cereal offerings, and sacrifices of well‐being. It is not used for the purification and reparation offerings, as the latter are not gifts but rituals of expiation. Of pleasing odor to the LORD : P's unique anthropomorphism attributes to God the sensual, carnal pleasure derived from inhaling the fragrant odor of roasting meat while at the same time denying that He actually consumes it as food. Similarly, P portrays God's Presence as abiding within the Tabernacle, but offerings presented to Him are turned into smoke and ascend heavenward. The LORD's contrasting human and supernatural traits, as well as His opposite attributes of immanence and transcendence, exist in P side by side.

10–13 :

A burnt offering from the flock (sheep and goats) is like offerings from the herd (cattle).

14–17 :

Making a burnt offering from fowl, presumably for those who could not afford a sacrifice of livestock. The birds that qualify as offerings, turtledoves and pigeons, are the two types of domesticated fowl used for human consumption. The particulars of the procedure stem from the nature of fowl and its small size. The wingspread is left intact so that the carcass placed upon the altar will not appear ridiculously small.

16 :

The first part of the v. should be translated “He shall remove its feathers and its excrement.” These are to be cast into the ash‐heap alongside the altar.

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